Dehydration Project: Buying a Dehydrator

So, you fancy a dehdrator? What should we be looking for, how much should we pay and what options do we have?

Price

Dehydrators are not cheap, rather they are a long term investment. It is important to clock this straight away as you may well find yourself buying a cheap dehydrator initially and then quickly replacing it with something more robust. This is what happened to me. My initial dehydrator was quite cheap but it only really lasted me twelve months before I replaced it with one of the most robust models on the market. This is a purchase that it is worth thinking about.

Two good places to look on the web are UK Juicers and our own Backpackinglight.co.uk. These will give you a good guide but as ever you can shop around on the web.

Types

In simple terms there are two types of dehydrator. The first type use circular trays with a whole in the middle. The motor pushes warm air up through a central shaft and this is spread across the food when the dehydrator lid is in place. Here is a picture of one such machine.

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The second type uses a filament at the back of the dehydrator giving you access to large dehydration trays. This style is dominated by Excalibur dehydrators which are general reckoned to be the toughest and most robust you can buy, but at a price.

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So, let’s look at cost and range (as of 2/2/09)

Choices

The cheapest dehydrator you’ll find in the UK is the basic Hottop machine which sells at £69 at UK Juicers and only £63.61 at backpackinglight.co.uk.

Both companies then offer the Stockli machines at £83.18 (BPLUK) and £89 (UJ). These seem more robust machines and have a good following. You can easily buy extra trays — these just stack on top of each other. This might be important as once you start preparing food for any lengthy trek you need good capacity.

BPLUK also offer the machine that was my first buy. This is out of stock at the moment. Won’t mention names but I’d avoid this one!

Having used a variety of these machines now I have settled on the Excalibur machine. These machines are made in the USA and are very tough. The basic 5 tray model (which is capacity enough) comes in at £199. This is quite a price hike and puts these machines in a different league. They are superior machines but this might be just too much for a first machine, although if you think you’ll be using it a lot — and the price tag hasn’t knocked you out — I’d recommend it.

Trays

Basically the machines work in the same way. Cooked food is placed on trays that have mesh bases, allowing the hot air to circulate efficiently throughout the machine. Special trays or sheets of Paraflexx should be included to allow you to dry wet food stuffs. These have micro perforations in them that let warm air move through without letting liquid drip on to the floor of the dehydrator.

What am I paying for?

So, there you have it a simple range of dehydrators. Basically, the more expensive the dehydrator the better motor you’re buying.

There are some extra frills that you can buy which are pretty worthless. The most prominent of these is a ‘timer’. A timer seems a useful thing but you’ll find that the dehydration of most wet food dishes takes about 18 hours or so. I tend to start dehydrating in the evening and leave the machine running all night and the next day. One of the good things about dehydration is that you can’t overdo it — you can’t ‘burn’ food by taking it too far.

So, that’s the hardware dealt with. You can get started for just short of £100.

Next I’ll move on to start looking at the food!

Comments

  1. Steve A says:

    Good points but I’m afraid I’ve bought a cheapie at £26. I don’t expect it be great but I hope it will open my eyes to the potential of dehydrating for backpacking.

  2. A good article, Andy, but a tad misleading:

    “The cheapest dehydrator you’ll find in the UK is the basic Hottop machine which sells at £69 at UK Juicers and only £63.61 at backpackinglight.co.uk.”

    Hmm… really?
    Just like Steve A above, I got me a cheapie from QVC (it’s a Koolatron TotalChef, the same as the ones occasionally sold by Tchibo) for about £26 (IIRC) a few years ago and it’s still going strong. It’s fine for dehydrating stuff for lightweight meals, and has paid for itself a few times over.

    Stef

  3. THanks Stef — that’s why this is blog feature rather than straight HTML!

  4. Steve — looks as if you may have got a bargain!

  5. stuart says:

    http://www.k-clements.fsnet.co.uk/dehydrator.html

    has details for what looks like a simple DIY job.

    Also there are Westfalia dehydrators online for £26.

    Like it so far though Andy

    • Thing wrong with a cheap option although they probably will not be as long lived. Bear in mind if you are dehydrating for a longish trip you will want to cook in bulk which means a few decent tray layers.

  6. I find the cheapo’s 5 height-adjustable trays to be enough. Depending on the intended meal size, it can do between 5 and 10 bagsworth in one session.

    As you say, longevity can be an issue, but so far I’ve had no problems with mine.

    Maybe you should commission Darren to do some long-term durability tests!

  7. Stef,

    Sounds like you have a bargain there. My experience with cheap dehydrators was not so good.

    I’ll consolidate this into the post when I turn it into a html file — but how heavily do you use it?

  8. Hi Andy,

    Great series this as I’ve been thinking about doing it myself for a while.

    I’m afraid I too have bought a cheap one but to be fair it was only just before your series began. Somebody was selling one on Gumtree as an unwanted gift having got it for Christmas. It was a bargain so had to go for it! It may not last forever but it gives me a chance to see if I like the idea for not a lot of money.

    • Fair enough Dude. Personally I’ve never seen these cheap ones and they do seem to provide a good ay of seeing whether you like this stuff or not.

  9. Phil W says:

    I would also add that I bought one of the cheapies about a year ago thinking of trying dehydrating my own meals. To my shame I never did, but hopefully your series will prompt me to give it a go.

  10. I too have the Westfalia £26. 3 cooking sessions Salmon/leek and saffron risoto. Mustard Beef bean Stew. Turkey/brown rice gunge. Did me for the challenge – delicious. I dehydrate for about 10hrs then smash em up in a blender then vacuum pack in 80gm packs. This might not be enough tho as altho I never felt hungry I lost 15 lbs weight on the challenge!

  11. Hi, just found this page, very interesting as I’d just posted on my blog about backpacking meals.

    I also bought the Westfalia, so far so good and at £26 makes sense in case dehydrating isn’t your thing. I find that it isn’t quite as simple or the results quite as good as it’s made out to be, certainly there is a fair amount of flavour lost (one of the benefits of Freeze drying is no flavour loss as i understand it)I found sauces didn’t dehydrate well and pasta can be difficult to rehydrate FBC style in my admitedly limited experience.

    That said it’s a great way to dry fruit for adding to instant custard etc.

    I’m glad I found this page as it’ll give me other things to try.

  12. Ihave aproject in kenya whch aimes at emproing youn people & am impresed by the ship cost of ua dehydratinging machine ones we get funding we shall apry for one

  13. Though I must have read this before I’d somehow overlooked the reference to Paraflexx. What a relief that something exists for wet mixtures! Much as I like my dehydrator (Bob’s £100ish one) I’ve not used it as much as I really should have, because it’s such a major faff when the stuff that comes out of the pan is smaller than the holes in the tray, which is most of the time. Will get some Paraflexx. Ta!

  14. Thanks for the information. I like the circular dehydrator photo with the colorful fruits. I prefer to invest in a robust dehydrator that will give the quality though at a higher cost.

  15. Well I bought a Stockli for about £120 and it has lasted a mere 6 months. On top of that, the company I bought it from aren’t answering any of my e-mails about returning it, and I see in their fine print that any faults have to be reported to them ‘upon receipt of the item’! Not impressed. So now I’m in a quandary and am tempted to buy a much cheaper dehydrator 2nd time round…my 2 concerns are how much power they use by comparison to more expensive models, and whether you have to rotate trays even if you only use 5. Any suggestions?

    • Julie,

      I had the same problems. My first dehydrator only lasted one season. I then went out and ought a more robust but expensive American Tray model from Excalibur. this may have cost more but it has been used a lot.

      For cheaper options give Bob Cartwright at http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk

      He has used dehydrators heavily for a long time and can speak authoritatively about those brands that seem to be quite robust.

  16. Thanks for this info! I’m just looking into buying my first dehydrator and I’m considering buying a cheapie…but maybe I will go with the Excalibur as it seems to be the leader in the industry! I do intend to be using my dehydrator on a regular basis so I suppose it will be worth the investment.

    • Kyra, if you are going to use it a lot then go for the Excalibur. You can use them for more than just hiking!

  17. Steve says:

    Actually, the Stockli model pictured isn’t the cheap type with the central shaft as you’ve described, its merely round but without a hole in the middle.

  18. sheila davy says:

    Does anyone know the cost to run and more important does it make a noise?

    • I’ve not really goe into cost Sheila but my impression is that they are pretty economical. They do make a noise a little like a strong fan — which is what we are talking about. I use mine in my kitchen and so long as I keep the door closed I don’t ahve a problem. they do tend to chug about a bit, which is why I refer to mine as ‘THe Monster’!

  19. Audrey says:

    I would love to get the Excalibur but are they expensive to run ??

    • Audrey,

      I don’t think they are anymore expensive really than any other. The build is robust and the design pretty simple. The back fan location means you can have sheets that are complete and don’t have holes in them — as you get with the circular models.

      If you use them regularly you will get your money’s worth!

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